About 50,000 years ago, the giant land turtle pictured above went extinct on at least one tiny Pacific Island. You may notice that said land turtle looks remarkably like a certain King Koopa, which begs the question: “Is the Mushroom Kingdom real, and did it take place 50,000 years ago in the Pacific?”
The bones of the newly discovered species, named Meiolania damelipi and described Aug. 16 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tell a clear story. They were found in a mound of animal bones discarded near a village of Lapita, a seafaring culture that 3,500 years ago spread east across Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. The bottom layer of the garbage pile, dated to 3,000 years ago, had many meiolaniid bones. The top layer, dated to 2,800 years ago, had none.
The Lapita would have hunted the slow-moving turtles, burned forests to clear cropland, and brought pigs and rats that ate their eggs. Worthy estimates that Vanuatu could have supported tens of thousands of M. damelipi, but in just 200 years they were gone. And if giant land turtles were on Vanuatu, they were likely found on other Pacific islands, and hunted into oblivion.